After more than a year of political wrangling with allies in Afghanistan's national unity government, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani this week announced the composition of a new seven-member High Peace Council (HPC), and again called on the Taliban and other insurgent groups to stop fighting and choose peace.
But as foreign diplomats and Ghani work to entice the Taliban to the negotiating table, the Afghan leader may have more work to do in convincing at least one of his political allies that the peace process is necessary.
First Vice President General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who headed a 10,000-strong army to fight the Taliban in his native Jowzjan province in northern Afghanistan, sent a stern message to the Taliban on the same day that Ghani was promoting peace.
"I'll revenge," the Uzbek militia leader vowed Tuesday in a televised speech. "I'll finish the enemy."
‘Doctor of Killing the Taliban’
Dostum has long been one of the Taliban's fiercest opponents, dating from even before the U.S.-led invasion. He is accused of massacring some 2,000 Taliban prisoners in early 2002 when his Uzbek militias, backed by U.S. special forces, defeated the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The longtime Afghan warlord calls himself "Talib-Kush Doctor," or Doctor of Killing the Taliban.
Some analysts say Dostum's message to the Taliban should not be seen as his absolute opposition to every Taliban member as, like Ghani, he would be amenable to talking to those willing to lay down their arms. Afghan officials have long insisted that peace overtures are directed at reconcilable members of the Taliban, while the government would spare no efforts against those Taliban members who refuse to stop fighting.
So far, the Taliban has given no indication it will join the peace talks. Taliban leaders have long said they will not enter into negotiations until all foreign troops have left Afghanistan.
On February 9, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told U.S. senators that Afghanistan faced risks of political breakdown in 2016 and that prospects for peace with the Taliban looked bleak.
The Afghan government says it is calling on the Taliban, the Haqqani network and the Hizb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG) group to join the peace process.
The Haqqani network is a U.S. State Department terror designee that is widely presumed to be operating from safe havens in Pakistan and under covert support from Pakistani intelligence elements. The network has been a follower of the Taliban's leader, but maintains operational autonomy.
HIG is a smaller group operating under the auspices of former Afghan warlord and Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.
The main group excluded from the Afghan peace process is the Islamic State group (IS), which announced its subordinate group, the so-called Khorasan state, in Afghanistan in January 2015. Afghan and U.S. forces have engaged in fierce fighting with the IS group in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, which borders Pakistan's lawless tribal areas.